The Casey Key Residence is a place that is both architectural and natural. The geometry of the modernist house forms the overall gesture of the front courtyard garden, while on the beachside a deck simply extends the floor plane out towards the dune. Each design element relates back to the house – the entry courtyard is formed by its acute geometry and is defined on the street-side by a series of partial-height walls. A water feature sits at the converging of its main axes and draws the sight line through the house towards the Gulf of Mexico. Less geometrically defined, the beachside garden is composed of a deck and boardwalk out over the dunes, native sabal palms and seagrapes, native groundcovers, and a line of coconut palms that continues the geometry from the courtyard through to the back.
The story of the Casey Key Residence is one of transformation and connectivity. Located on a narrow barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the original house was not architecturally noteworthy and the existing landscape consisted primarily of unfettered invasive species, and a handful of native palms and sand. The owner had purchased the existing home for its location and setting but desired a modern beach house. The owner was familiar with Luis Barragan’s work and this became the inspiration for the homes renovation.
The simple gestures of the landscape architecture were conceived to provide a serene setting for the renovation but within the parameters of a modest budget. Key to the design program was adherence to budget constraints, creating a sense of privacy from the heavily traveled road, utilizing existing site resources and locally sourced materials, reconciling the converging geometries of the home expansion, and providing a serene setting that connects the renovated home to its site.
At the driveway and along the road site walls fully envelop the front courtyard, letting invited guests slip in between the layered composition. Within these walls the sounds of the traffic and bicyclists constantly travelling the busy coastal road is deadened. Water spills from a fountainhead at the front door, quietly drawing the visitor to the converging geometries of the house, and leading the eye through the house to the Gulf beyond. While the gestures are simple, details are carried through the execution of each component – the grid lines of the entry sidewalk extend into the water basin and up the other side onto the coping.
The composition and scale of each element was carefully considered to relate back to that of the architecture and site. The site walls are high enough that traffic beyond is unseen from within, but not so high that elements of the design can’t peek out to foreshadow the garden experience. From the driveway, which expresses the converging geometries of the house in its simple saw-cut joint pattern, the tall coconuts draw the eye up; more subtly, tucked just inside the entry wall, and fully experienced only from within the courtyard, is a sculpture of dried bamboo culms. Outside of these private walls just the tops playfully protrude from a linear bed. In an architecturally defined space, the play of light and shadow – that the bamboo casts onto the walls and ground – adds to the experience that changes throughout the day . The landscape is an extension of the architecture, but is more dynamic.
Hardscape paths within the courtyard clearly define circulation and movement. Surrounded by these paths, a yard of regional limestone gravel was designed to disguise the septic drain field. Native sabal palms, relocated from elsewhere on the site, step in and out of the gravel yard and weave through plantings of native spartina grass providing shadows that play against the soft forms of weathered clay urns organized on a plaza located along the west edge of the yard.
As the driveway and pedestrian entry reflect the strong geometries of the house, so does the circulation within the garden. A path of stepping stones from the gravel yard leads directly to a window with a view through the site, connecting east and west. Another line of stepping stones traverses the water garden and parallels the east façade of the house and turns to the south side to an outdoor shower. A boardwalk picks up here and continues to the beachside garden.
Natural Resource and Economy
The design of the beachside garden impacts the sensitive ecosystem in the most delicate way possible. A simple wood deck with an edge that mimics the movement of the tidal waterline ties the modern architecture to the natural dune. A slender boardwalk provides access across the revegetated dune to a stair that descends to the natural amenity of the white sandy shore below.
In developing this garden experience, every effort was made to integrate locally sourced materials and bolster the health of native flora and fauna typical of this sensitive yet demanding environment. All invasive species were removed from the site and existing dune species were supplemented with new native planting to reduce soil erosion, and prevent the intrusion of pioneer species. All existing palms were retained and relocated on the site; no turf grass was used; and only temporary irrigation was used to establish the drought tolerant plant palette. To minimize waste from the construction process, even small things were taken into consideration. For example, the grower pots from new plantings were re-used to cast the small concrete footers for each of the dried bamboo culms of the front entry sculpture. While on a spectacular site the project maintains its broad appeal through its modesty.